4 ways to influence at work
Good ideas do not just happen by themselves. Good ideas become real when people get together and make them happen. You might have all the budget you need, the best processes, robust frameworks and the latest technology, but if you do not have people inspired and motivated about the impact of the idea, quite simply, nothing happens.
Whether you are inspiring your donor to make a decision to give, persuading your manager to test your ideas, encouraging corporate funders to support your organization or motivating colleagues to get on board to with your project, the skill of inspiring and influencing others is crucial for your career development.
When I was a fundraiser at the NSPCC we had many case stories that we shared with donors about the work that the organization did and the difference their donation could make to children that had suffered abuse. The case stories were highly emotive, yet I was frustrated that I wasn’t getting good enough results. My manager gave me some excellent advice, to find my stories that I could tell in my own words, because only when I could connect with the stories could I connect and inspire others. I wanted to work at the NSPCC because I had previously been a volunteer Childline counselor. I started to tell stories about my volunteering, and how on every shift you spent some time on the switchboard. I shared how the calls just stacked up. We couldn’t answer them all. After sharing my experiences, when I asked donors if they would like the opportunity to donate to help us answer every call, many more said yes.
Persuading your manager
In your career you will have to influence your manager, perhaps to endorse your new idea, or to expand your experience through signing off a budget for a training course, or give you time to develop new projects. The day I shifted my mindset and acknowledged that part of my role was to help make my manager look good, my influencing abilities improved significantly. In my experience, people can be reluctant to take risks or try something new for fear of failure. So one of your influencing techniques with your manager is to give them confidence that the risk of failure is minimized and they will not lose face. You can do this by showing them what another manager, who is like them, that they respect, is doing that is working. Make it easy for them to say yes by suggesting a small test. For example I wanted to work with a new event supplier (when we had used the same one for many years), we tested the new supplier at one small event before making any big decisions, and it helped that another manager had worked with this supplier previously and recommended them.
You may have to encourage corporate partners to work with you. Inspiring them is about offering a win-win partnership. It is an opportunity for both parties to drive a positive and important change that you both care about – that also has the potential to increase both parties income. An example of this is the partnership that UCL has developed with major food retailers. Together, Iceland, Morrisons, ASDA and Waitrose have agreed to donate the new 5p bag levy to fund the £100 million shortfall in income for the world-class dementia research centre at UCL. The retailers have positioned themselves as partners working together to drive change about a cause that is increasingly important to their customers, which will impact on their brand perception and their bottom line.
Motivating your colleagues
People prefer to say yes to people they like. We also like people who are similar to us. You rely on your colleagues every single day. Yet how much do you know about them? Early in my fundraising career I had to work with the very overstretched database team on multiple projects. It was an understandably fractious relationship; we were all under a lot of pressure to deliver on many projects with conflicting deadlines. In the hope of building relationships I started going upstairs to their office to see them rather than emailing. One day I arrived at my colleagues’ desk at the same time as a delivery of shoes for a wedding they were going to. We spent 10 minutes trying on shoes discussing which would be most suitable with her dress. Others might have seen us and thought it was a frivolous waste of time, but after that the work got done more quickly, we had two-way dialogue about why I needed the data and we worked together to find the best way to get it.
The more you know about the people you want to inspire and influence, the more equipped you will be to think about the best way to approach them. You may not get it right first time, be resilient work out why it didn’t work and try again and keep trying because the only way you make your ideas happen is to work with and inspire others.
4 quick influencing tips
- Find your stories and practice telling them.
- Minimize risk by testing something small to test if it works.
- Work out the win for you and the person you are trying to influence
- Spend time getting to know people.
For more on influencing and making your ideas happen check out The Innovation Workout.
This blog was first published in October 2015 on the Guardian Voluntary Network.